The COVID-19 pandemic has created countless challenges for everyone, including lawmakers across the country. One question we have been asked at Shankle Law Firm many times is whether a worker infected by the virus will be covered under workers’ compensation. The answer to the question is…it’s complicated. Every state has its own workers’ compensation laws, so some may cover contracting COVID-19 on the job while other states may not. Currently, there is no clear law in North Carolina on whether a worker infected by the virus will be covered under workers’ compensation.
As a general rule, workers’ compensation does not cover routine community-spread illnesses such as a cold of the flu. These illnesses are considered “ordinary diseases of life” which generally cannot be directly tied to the workplace. In North Carolina, among other factors, you must prove the disease was contracted while “in the course and scope of employment” for workers’ compensation to cover the disease. So, what does this mean? This means that there must be a direct link and traceable instance of you coming in direct contact with someone with COVID-19 while you are actively on the clock at work. Even if you can prove this, it does not mean workers’ compensation will cover you as there are other requirements which must be met.
Several states have created laws to extend workers’ compensation coverage to include first responders and health care workers impacted by COVID-19. One common approach has been to change state policy so that COVID-19 infections in certain occupations are presumed work-related and will be covered by workers’ compensation. However, North Carolina has not yet taken this approach and our laws have not been changed to specifically address COVID-19 as it relates to workers’ compensation.
This does not mean your COVID-19 case is automatically invalid. The COVID-19 pandemic presents a situation where many jobs that were not typically considered hazardous have become very dangerous for workers: jobs such as essential healthcare workers, grocery store employees, and mass transit workers to name a few. These individuals are at a high risk of exposure to the virus while at work and questions like whether personal protective equipment was provided may become relevant in litigation involving COVID-19. If you know you were exposed to Covid-19 at work, you should immediately call Shankle Law Firm for a free consultation to discuss your options.
Please remember to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 in the workplace, the CDC has recommended employees and customers increase physical space to at least six (6) feet apart, wear a face covering, and frequently wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. If you, a loved one or someone you know has tested positive for COVID-19 due to exposure in the workplace, contact our office for a free consultation. We hope that you all stay safe and well in these difficult times.